Transgenero Performance: Gender and Transformation in Fronteras Desviadas/Deviant Borders

Mujeres en Ritual: An Invitation to Transgress
There are many ways to perceive Tijuana: as the first corner of México, or the last, or as the doorway to Latinoamerica, or to los Estados Unidos.1 I grew up in the hills above the city, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego skyline, watching the border patrol cars and helicopters chasing migrants who were trying to cross to the USA, every day. The border was literally in my back yard, in my face—a horrible stretch of rusting metal, leftover from the first US Gulf War and recycled in México as a fence to stop the perceived infiltration of Latinos into the United States. As a child, this non-metaphorical, very concrete border fence reminded me every day that I was considered inferior, poor, dirty, criminal, that I was not wanted, that I could not cross. As an artist, as I grew, that fence invited me to transgress.

The border between Tijuana, B.C. (México) and San Diego, California (US) is the most frequently crossed border in the world, with an estimated 300,000 legal crossings per day. As described by anthropologist and folklorist Maribel Alvarez, the border includes:

Millions of workers essential to the economic machines of North American agriculture, tourism, and industry: farm workers, low-tech labor, dishwashers, gardeners, maids . . . but [it’s] also a military machine of low-intensity conflict: Homeland Security helicopters, Border Patrol agents, infrared cameras, detention centers, books of regulations . . . Violence and death are dimensions of everyday life in the border.2

In addition to non-sanctioned border crossings, these deaths include feminicide,3 the trafficking of women in the sex trade and labor, as well as deaths related to untenable working conditions and toxic illnesses caused by pollution from maquiladoras.4 Tijuana’s maquiladora industries and sexual tourism industries are among the largest in the world—both predominantly controlled by men, but fueled by the exploitation of (predominantly) women workers. All of this systematically diminishes the image of Mexican women in the global imagination, and thereby normalizes and renders violence against us permissible in a region where every woman is potentially seen as a “puta.” The stigmatization of my identity, as a woman and Tijuanense, also invited me to transgress.

In November 1999, I founded a company with a group of women artists from the community, as a response and resistance to the systematic oppression of women at the México-US border—a way oftransforming the perception of women, as well as our perceptions of ourselves, from object to subject. Our first production was titled Mujeres en Ritual (Women in Ritual), which became our name. After nearly three years as a participant in Jerzy Grotowski’s WorkCenter in Pontadera, Italy, I had returned to México with a deep desire to investigate and create theatre from the roots of my own culture.5 With grounding in traditional dances and rituals of México, Mujeres en Ritual Danza-Teatro developed a rigorous training process, drawing from three techniques that complement each other and sustain the concept of precise movement: Suzuki Technique, Butoh, and the theatre tradition of Jerzy Grotowski (specifically “Objective Drama” and “Art as a Vehicle” phases). The intention of embodied practice is to eradicate the vestiges of oppression in the bodies of women. The physical training process liberates blocks in the body and voice to allow greater levels of expressivity—which often means breaking silences, and confronting or expressing our traumas. It helps us deconstruct conventional stereotypes of femininity, to perform strength and agency. Mujeres en Ritual de-objectifies women of the border region by demystifying our desires—by breaking myths that, as women of color, we choose oppressive systems, or “like it like that,” or want to be in positions in which we are dominated. Through our creations, we disrupt stereotypes and false perceptions to expose the systematic exploitation of women.

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